Understanding Anal Cancer | Types | Symptoms | Diagnosing | Stages | Risk Factors | Resources
Most people with anal cancer are cured, especially if their cancer is diagnosed early. No matter what type or stage of anal cancer you have, treatments are available.
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center offers comprehensive anal cancer treatment from a team of experts who specialize in gastrointestinal cancers.
Anal cancer occurs when cells begin to grow abnormally in:
Several layers and types of cells make up the tissues in this area. Different types of cancer can develop here, depending on which layer of cells is affected.
Whatever the type, anal cancer cells do not respond to regular cell growth, division and death signals like they are supposed to. They also don’t organize normally. Instead they grow into a tumor, which may break through surrounding layers of cells.
Fred Hutch experts offer comprehensive care for anal cancer, including advanced treatments and new options available only through clinical studies. Although anal cancer is uncommon, we treat it regularly here.
Anal cancer may not cause any symptoms, or it may not cause symptoms until it’s advanced. Symptoms may include:
These symptoms may be caused by conditions other than cancer. If you have any of the symptoms above, or other symptoms that concern you, see your physician to find out the reason.
If you do have anal cancer, physicians are more likely to find it early — when it’s easier to treat — if you’re evaluated sooner rather than later.
If you have signs or symptoms that could be from anal cancer, your physician will start by asking about your medical history and family history and doing a physical exam. You may also need one or more of these procedures:
Digital rectal exam — Your physician inserts a lubricated, gloved finger into your anus to feel for abnormal areas or masses.
Anoscopy — Your physician inserts a thin, short, lighted tube called an anoscope through your anus into the lower part of your rectum to look for any abnormalities.
Flexible sigmoidoscopy — Your physician looks at your anus and rectum using a thin, lighted tube called a sigmoidoscope.
Biopsy — During anoscopy, your physician may remove small samples of tissue (or an entire tumor, if it’s small). A pathologist examines the cells under a microscope. This is the only way to tell whether you have anal cancer.
Imaging studies — If cancer is found, your physician may also want you to have imaging studies, such as an X-ray, ultrasound, computed tomography (CT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan or positron-emission tomography (PET) scan, to learn more about whether your cancer has spread.
The treatment that your physicians recommend for anal cancer will be based in part on the stage of your cancer. The stage depends on:
Anal cancers are grouped into stages I through IV, with stage I being the least advanced and stage IV being the most advanced.
There isn't any known cause for anal cancer, but several factors may contribute to its development.
These factors may affect your risk for anal cancer:
About 8,600 people are diagnosed with anal cancer in the United States each year.
Overall, women are more likely to get anal cancer than men are. African-Americans are more likely than European Americans to develop the disease. Among African-Americans, men are more likely to get this type of cancer than women are.
There are many resources online for learning about your disease. Health educators at the Fred Hutch Patient and Family Resource Center have compiled a list of trusted sources to help you get started.
Whether you are newly diagnosed, going through treatment or know someone with cancer, our staff are available to tailor personalized resources and answer questions about support options in the community.
Our list of online resources provides accurate health information from reliable and reputable sources, like the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN).
American Cancer Society (ACS): Overview of Anal Cancer
If you have anal cancer or are a caregiver for someone who does, knowing what to expect can be helpful. Here you can find out all about anal cancer in adults, including risk factors, symptoms and how they are found and treated.
American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO): Guide to Anal Cancer
This is ASCO's Guide to anal cancer. Here you can learn more about anal cancer, treatment, the latest research and clinical trials.
National Cancer Institute (NCI): Anal Cancer-Patient Version
The NCI is the federal government's principal agency for cancer research and training. Here you can find more information about anal cancer treatment, research and coping with cancer.